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Survey Claims UK People are Wary of Smaller Broadband ISPs

Thursday, Jan 14th, 2021 (11:56 am) - Score 2,256
confused uk consumer

A new Censuswide survey of 2,000 UK people, which was commissioned by comparethemarket.com (vested interest), claims to have found that there is a “lack of competition” in the broadband ISP market (81% of UK households only take a service from the “Big Four“) and 26% fear smaller ISPs might not be as good.

The survey noted that 78% of households had not switched ISP in over a year (hardly surprising, since most contracts these days run to 18-24 months), although 34% of non-switchers admitted to never having changed provider in their lifetime (sadly we don’t get a split by age as that may show different trends) and 17% consider it too much hassle to switch.

NOTE: By “Big Four” the survey means BT, Sky Broadband, Virgin Media and TalkTalk.

Despite this, some 22% of those who use one of the big ISPs described their connection as merely ‘OK’ or ‘poor’ during the pandemic. Meanwhile 20% also believe they have been overcharged by their provider when their contract came to an end in the past.

The good news is 82% say that they could be persuaded to switch to a smaller, lesser-known provider – “particularly if the service was cheaper or better quality.” Indeed 55% of those who had changed provider did so with the aim of saving money, while 36% switched due to issues with speed and a poor connection.

However, there is scepticism among some broadband customers towards lesser-known ISPs, as 26% could not be convinced to switch away from a traditional supplier, expressing concerns around smaller firms’ ability to deliver the same standard of service. Other sticking points include financial stability, with 18% worried that smaller players are at risk of collapse, while 12% do not trust their security measures, or simply expect them to be acquired by the industry giants.

Rural connectivity also proves to be a problem from lesser-known broadband providers, as one in six (16%) of those who would not switch to a smaller supplier say they do not operate in their area.

A Different Perspective

On the subject of competition, it’s worth noting that the UK is home to one of the largest and most aggressively competitive markets for domestic grade home broadband services in the world. Hundreds of providers exist in this sector and there is now a rapidly growing number of alternative network platforms too. If anything, in today’s market the problem is less a lack of competition and more the risk of it becoming too confusing.

Similarly, smaller ISPs tend to cost more as they lack the same economies of scale as the big boys, which means that they rarely engage in the same sort of aggressive discounting (with some exceptions). On the flip side when we look at reviews on our site, as well as third-party surveys, then we tend to see smaller providers (e.g. Zen Internet, IDNET, Andrews & Arnold [AAISP], Aquiss, Hyperoptic etc.) being much more highly rated than their bigger rivals.

However, smaller players rarely end up providing full support for Ofcom’s various voluntary codes of practice (consumer protection measures), such as those for automatic compensation and broadband speeds. Often these would be too expensive for them to implement, although providers in this boat may feel as if their approach to customer support is already able to do something similar.

Nevertheless, there’s clearly a perception problem that has yet to be fully overcome and we suspect, as the level of choice continues to grow, then this may get worse before it gets better due to consumer confusion. Meanwhile the risk of focusing on price alone is that you foster a race to the bottom, as everybody cuts prices to stay competitive, albeit possibly at the cost of quality or support (i.e. adequate investment in future upgrades).

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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13 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Jamie says:

    And rightly so, John Lewis broadband are absolutely useless. Gave me a switch date and missed it, waited a week afterwards and heard nothing so I contacted them and they were unable to say why or if they would try again. Had to then push for a refund for about 4 weeks until I threatened legal action.

    1. Avatar photo Craig Murray says:

      John Lewis Broadband is hardly a small ISP. The service is provided and operated by Plusnet with the John Lewis badge stuck on the front to attract a different type of customer. So ultimately John Lewis Broadband is a BT Consumer service, don’t get much bigger than that.

  2. Avatar photo Name says:

    81% of UK households only take a service from the “Big Four“ and 26% fear smaller ISPs might not be as good.

    But in real life “Big Four” are not as good. I’ve been with TT and Vodafone. TT was good for first 2 months Vodafone was good for the first year. Now I am with Zen and this is my final solution so far.

  3. Avatar photo Hereford says:

    The big four are generally offering triple/quad play services, hence they will reach significantly higher proportions of the market.

    Having used Plusnet for 10 years, before and after they were taken over by BT, their customer support was always good, but they ceased properly improving their service. Vodafone, it’s great when it works, otherwise their equipment and service improvements are patchy.

    Smaller ISP’s (alt.net’s) generally are offering higher prices and until the market settles for gigabit services, I think the consumer will lose out in underserved areas either through slow broadband or much higher than average pricing.

  4. Avatar photo Bob says:

    Outside of the bigger cities most consumers don’t have a choice other than the bigger ISPs so no wonder the figures are skewed in their favour. This is changing, albeit slowly.

    1. Avatar photo Amy Pond says:

      That’s an interesting perception but not really true. Zen Internet, IDNET, Andrews & Arnold, Cerberus, Uno, the Phone Coop to name but a few are all available nationwide.

  5. Avatar photo Junaid says:

    In September I switched to a smaller ISP. I made the switch as they were the only ISP to offer 100 mbs download speeds in my area for an affordable price this was mainly due to the fact that they were part of the governments scheme to get faster Internet access to everyone so start up costs were covered by vouchers. They were also adverts literally everywhere in my local area. So I decided to try them and well after pestering them regarding issues I had including speed drops (below 20 mbps) and connection issues and having to take it to the ombudsman I am no longer with them. It has now made me more skeptical of smaller isps. I made the switch to one of the big 4 recently at a much higher cost, one of the main selling point to Switching to the big 4 as it had recently signed up to one of ofcoms non compulsory codes of practice

  6. Avatar photo Mark says:

    I’m currently with virgin not because they are one of the big 4 but because they are the only ones that can offer me high speed, cityfibre are expanding to my area now so when this is live I will be switching and will probably go with zen if I can get their service over cityfibre in my area otherwise I will probably go with vodafone

  7. Avatar photo FibreBubble says:

    “On the flip side when we look at reviews on our site” we see extremely small sample sizes and manipulation.

  8. Avatar photo Dave says:

    Zen are the best provider in the UK bar none.

  9. Avatar photo Goodfellow says:

    I am very disappointed, neither “pinch” nor “salt” feature within the text of this article, see me after class please Jackson.
    In all seriousness it just shows how much the British public have been conditioned to respond to advertising; I’ve never heard of them, so no household of mine will be buying Internet from them.
    Then there are the crowd that assumes that all connectivity is solely provided by a BT owned network, and to go with any other ISP means that they are being ripped off by a company who adds charges on top for the sake of profit or charges less and somehow steals your bandwidth for their own evil ends.
    Personally I use Zen for my main connection, I’ve never noticed a problem, they’re a little more expensive. I use Vodafone as my secondary connection and regularly have problems but they’re really cheap and as a secondary that’s fine by me!

  10. Avatar photo j karna says:

    I joined Community Fibre in August 2020 and first class connectivity with FTTP- 300Mbps symmetrical.
    But the support department is useless.

  11. Avatar photo AnotherTim says:

    Actually availability in rural areas isn’t a reason to avoid smaller ISPs – in fact of the “Big Four” only BT can provide anything in my area – VM, TalkTalk, and Sky won’t provide a phone or broadband. However a lot of smaller ISPs can provide ADSL2+ (using the Openreach infrastructure of course).

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